Nicole is a senior visual designer at Code and Theory, a digital agency in NYC. Originally from Canon, MA, she’s been living and working in the city for five years — all while single-handedly running a fashion magazine featuring work by photographers across the world. Nicole's a good friend of mine and I've always wondered how she manages to balance her full-time job with what seems like another full-time job. So I asked her. And while I've always said side projects should be stupid, Nicole's got some golden advice of her own.
Let's do it!
Photography has been present throughout my entire life. When my mother was young, my grandfather was fascinated by the technology and gadgets released in the 60s and 70s. He always wanted to have the newest and greatest camera and was constantly taking photos (one of my precious possessions he passed onto me was his Nikon film camera, in perfect condition). Also, my father was an auctioneer. I was constantly surrounded by antiques, artwork, artifacts, you name it.
When I was 14, my dad got me my first film camera. Photography became a passion of mine in high school and I was always seen with my camera taking photos of everything and everyone. When my interest in fashion began to evolve, it was like two roads met each other at one end. My love for photography and fashion are what led me to creating ONE.
“It all started from the pure excitement of making something for me.”
Before college, I was obsessed with Fabien Baron’s work with Interview Magazine in the mid to late 2000s. And since I was studying graphic design at Ringling College of Art and Design, marrying my three loves was the perfect potential portfolio piece. It all started from the pure excitement of making something for me. It was a way to express my love for fashion photography through design.
The first two issues were pure experiments, since it was my first try at editorial design. I featured my photography work as well as friends' work from college. That summer, while I was interning at Code and Theory, I was inspired to completely reinvent the magazine. I branded ONE, redesigned the entire editorial structure and published my third issue featuring 11 editorials (cover story photographed by me), 18 designer features, nine articles, four product feature spreads, two artist spotlights and 26 illustrators — phew. Honestly, I don’t know how I constructed all of that into one issue by myself.
But that excitement of creating something was like an addiction for me, and I couldn’t stop. I've always been a cheerleader for my friends. Everyone at Ringling was so talented and I couldn’t wait to see them go off and accomplish amazing things. And that’s how I’ve always approached my contributors to ONE. I want to showcase how amazing they are and that will always be my main goal.
Time management is definitely key. I mainly work on the magazine on the weeknights and usually take Friday and Saturday off, then pick back up on Sunday afternoon. It can get pretty tough when there are late nights at work. Those nights I can’t work on ONE, so the work piles up for the following night. When I’m working on the printed issue, the month leading up to the submission deadline gets a little rocky. That’s when I begin working weekends as well.
"If I’m tired from a long day at work and I don’t feel like working that night, I won’t do it."
Since I’ve been working on the magazine for so long, I’ve learned to step back more and not let it consume my downtime as much. If I’m tired from a long day at work and I don’t feel like working that night, I won’t do it. I want to make sure every time I work on the magazine, I’m in a content mental space. I never work on it if I’m stressed, tired or frustrated because I don’t want to build an association of negativity with working on ONE.
I still consider it a side project because it’s mostly me producing every inch of its presence on social media, the website and throughout each printed issue.
Since the reinvented third issue from 2011, I’ve been selling the magazine through magcloud.com as print on-demand. This takes the burden of shipping and costs for printing off my shoulders. Even though the printing process isn’t the highest quality, it’s been the easiest way for me to produce a printed issue of the magazine. Other than MagCloud, I have a strong digital following and presence on ISSUU. Their platform has given ONE a global audience.
The magazine was never funded. It began with emailing photographers I admired and asking to feature them. And that process hasn’t changed much other than people now are reaching out to contribute to ONE.
I publish ONE Magazine biannually and I’ve got the planning process down to a system that’s worked pretty well over the years.
For the summer issues, I release the theme and submission date in January. The deadline would usually be in April/May and the final summer issue would be released in May/June. For the winter issues, I release the theme and submission date in July. The deadline would be in November and the final winter issue would be released before or after Thanksgiving.
Working at a digital agency and knowing how to produce decks for presentations has come in handy when concepting each theme. During the initial brainstorming for an upcoming issue, I research the most recent fashion week season and construct a list of recurring trends and styles. I read trend reports, group color palette patterns and establish overarching moods I feel resonate with this season’s collections.
Sometimes current events could play a role in the theme for an issue as well. For Issue No.14, The Vibrant Issue (published June 2017), I was inspired by the bright colors and patterns showcased throughout the spring/summer 2017 collections. At the same time I was constructing the theme for this issue, the Women’s March in January was days away. I wanted to encourage my contributors to produce concepts depicting how color can interpret strength. Issue No.14 is about celebrating color and liveliness through interconnectivity because today’s women are strong, diverse and independent.
After the theme PDF is constructed and the submission deadline is selected, I release the info on social media and the website. From there, I’ll receive emails from potential contributors pitching their interpretations on how they’d like to shoot an editorial based off the theme.
Once I’ve approved concepts, the photographers (I mostly work with photographers overseas) plan the shoot details with their team, check in with me from time to time, then send a preview of the un-retouched selects. If approved, they send me high-res images along with team and styling credits.
Editorials for the issues come in at different times. Once I get a couple final stories in, I like to jump right into mocking editorials in the InDesign file. I have a roster of image layouts I repurpose but organize differently for each issue. As the rest of the stories come in, I continue to layout their spreads. Once all content is in, I export the PDFs, produce and schedule each Facebook/Instagram post, export assets and copy needed for the website, publish on Magcloud and Issuu the night before, and then announce in the morning.
It’s all about figuring it out as you go. Everything has been trial and error. My artistic viewpoint has strengthened over the years working on the magazine. I have improved the way I conceptualize my ideas and communicate what I’m looking for by providing the right artistic direction and feedback to a contributor. But all of those improvements came with time by learning what works and what doesn’t. Nobody is perfect and I’ve definitely made mistakes over the years, but that’s the only way you’ll learn.
“It’s a daily battle, but the stress of rushing something and expecting it to be immediately perfect is not worth it.”
Over the years while running ONE Magazine, I’ve noticed how quickly people launch and publish a new magazine. And I say to myself, “Wow! That’s impressive! How do they do that?” They’re probably not doing it by themselves, which is how they can get it up and running so quickly. But I’ve enjoyed taking baby steps in developing ONE. I’m in no rush to print and stock it throughout the world (although that would be amazing, of course!). The magazine wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for the growth and development process I experienced. You can see how the visual language has evolved throughout the years, flipping through one issue to the next.
It all comes back to a work/side project/life balance. Over the past two years, I’ve noticed how more of my time has been sucked into late nights in front of my computer answering emails and preparing weekly digital features. It’s been catching up to me lately, and this year especially, I’ve been trying to construct a healthier schedule where I can enjoy time off but still get the work done.
Living in New York City doesn’t help with the whole work/life balance either. We’re workaholics and for some reason we’re OK with that. I try to tell myself every day that stress isn’t always worth it. Plus, I love my full-time job and I’m not looking to give that up anytime soon. It’s a daily battle, but the stress of rushing something and expecting it to be immediately perfect is not worth it. And I’ve noticed how my readers enjoy being part of my process and growth. They attach connections to past issues and enjoy seeing what the next issue will be.
Instagram has been my main source of exposure, other than ISSUU. The audience grew immensely since I created @one_magazine in January 2014. Instagram is a pretty remarkable tool. Their business account provides me with the tools and capabilities to track each posts’ impressions, reach and engagement. Since I started the account, I’ve established a social post database where I document how I write posts and which posts get posted when. This has been helpful when I’ve taken on interns to help out with managing my social media platforms in the past.
Fashion has become one of the main pools of content saturating the Instagram universe. I think I launched the magazine on Instagram at the right moment. But it has also taken time to get the following to where it is now, and I never rushed to get the numbers up like others I know have. But as we know, Instagram isn’t a perfect place. The algorithm may sometime cause issues, but there’s not much you can do other than staying consistent to your posting ritual.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but you truly receive so much from people when you’re nice to them.”
In the beginning, I used to reach out to all my contributors, asking if they’d like to submit a completed story or shoot something new for the magazine. At this point, I receive numerous emails daily from photographers or stylists sharing their mood board ideas or completed submissions. I do still reach out to specific photographers, either photographers I’ve built a relationship with over the years or new photographers whose style emulates the breadth and vibrancy of ONE.
I want to be very real with my contributors or to anyone who emails a submission to me. The fashion industry is known as a “not-so-nice” atmosphere to work in, and I never want to make anyone feel like they’re being ignored or disrespected. I’ve met some of my contributors over the years and the recurring feedback I’ve received is that I respond to them, and they greatly appreciate something as simple as that. I’ve built these strong relationships with my contributors because I present them with kindness. I know it sounds cheesy, but you truly receive so much from people when you’re nice to them.
I like to keep ONE Magazine and myself separate when it comes to a social presence. My personal Instagram is private and I only accept new followers if I know them. But there are other ways I like to associate myself with the magazine, such as on my website or another platform where my design work is present. I like keeping things separate and I kind of like being this mysterious “Nicole, Founder of ONE” in relation to the magazine’s social presence. It helps keep my personal life and my close friends mine, instead of letting the whole world know what I’m doing daily.
The biggest challenge is sustaining a printed issue that’s not actually printed — at least until someone orders it. Most contributors I work with won’t shoot for me unless it’s “printed.” It’s an old-school mindset that’s still present in the fashion industry, when everything surrounding it is producing digital content. But in the end, everything featured in the printed issues ends up getting featured digitally as well.
That challenge also shifts into a sub-challenge, where the printed issue is not accessible to all readers. Anyone can can access the full issue digitally, but that’s not enough. And I get that because having the printed issue in your hands and flipping through the pages is where you can truly marvel over the beautiful editorials. I don’t work with a printer, or stock in any bookstores and magazine bodegas, mostly because I don’t have the time and money to tackle that on my own.
Running this on my own has placed more weight on my shoulders as the community and following continues to grow. But I stay true to what I can handle and continue to publish beautiful images by talented photographers. All of those big next steps have always been in my mind, and I’d love to take it there one day. But I focus on the now, my full-time job and my happiness, sustaining a comfortable balance between work and life.
A continued challenge is breaking into the fashion industry. I like the feeling of being on the “outskirts” of the industry, but when I’m looking to feature a designer or pull clothes from a designer’s collection, their team not being familiar with ONE Magazine causes them to pull away from collaborating. Again, it’s all about who you know in the fashion industry. I’ve worked closely with a fashion director for my designer features over the past couple years, and she is the reason I’ve had access to interviewing Yoshiyuki Miyamae, the creative director of Issey Miyake and Claudia Li. You have to have a connection to step into their world.
And you’d think in today’s social world, designers would be open to working with new brands. Sadly, that’s not the case. A few years ago, I reached out to an up-and-coming jewelry brand based in Paris and I was immediately turned down because they “didn’t want to participate in my first issue.” Clearly they didn’t read my email, because I was working on producing my eighth issue. Not sure how this behavior will change, but for me it came with time and by building the brand’s presence and consistent style that readers and PR companies can immediately recognize.
1. Be selective about what you choose to feature. In the beginning I was too nice and I had a difficult time telling people no. But now that I’ve honed in on keeping the style consistent, I have to be very selective and curate the right content that speaks to ONE Magazine.
2. Things come with time. Have patience. I’ve slowly grown the magazine’s following and consistently adjusted its visual appearance over the years to a point where I feel it balances nicely with the editorials within each issue.
3. Don’t take on every single thing by yourself. I still do, but not entirely. Having my fashion director help produce the designer features has been a huge weight off my shoulders and the results are truly beneficial. And finding someone to work with who speaks your language and understands your vision is very important. I was lucky enough to find that person.
And advice I would give others who are looking to start a magazine is to be yourself. Try not to do what others are doing. Focus on the core reasons why you want to create something and highlight that as the main voice of the brand.
Thank you so much for this interview, Nicole! I loved how much detail you shared about your process and story.
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